Getting girls and women involved in science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM) is a timely issue. But Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles has a 10-year record of promoting girls in STEM.
The Javabots, an all-girl FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics team, has 12 Girl Scout members in grades 8-12. Of the 30 GSGLA-sponsored robotics teams, only the Javabots got to attend the FIRST Championship in Houston, April 17-20.
During the 2018-19 competitive season, the team designed, built, and programmed a robot to compete against other FTC teams in the region in qualifying matches in hopes of advancing to the FIRST Championship, where tens of thousands of students from around the globe gather to show off their STEM skills.
The Javabots were selected through a lottery to attend the competition, during which the team won two out of nine qualifying matches.
FIRST is a global program created to get kids excited about science and technology. Girl Scouts of the USA partnered with FIRST with the goals of encouraging more girls into STEM careers and gender equity in our global society.
Julie Townsend, a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory robotics engineer, attended a FIRST robotics tournament 10 years ago. Afterward, she thought robotics would be a good way to encourage girls to participate in STEM activities, and she decided to mentor a Girl Scouts-sponsored robotics team. To this day, Townsend remains the Javabots’ coach.
Senior Girl Scout Alyssa H. is the Javabots’ outreach coordinator. She said the program has bolstered her confidence in the STEM world.
“Although I was on a [FIRST LEGO League] team at my school, I never programmed or built the robot and instead worked on the project aspect with the other girls on my team. In short, I was discouraged and I thought robotics wasn’t for me,” Alyssa said.
She said the experience made her reluctant to join Javabots, but once she did, the program and her mentors far exceeded her expectations.
“I was thrust into an environment where I was expected to CAD, build, program, drill, laser-cut, organize, delegate, and lead,” she said.
Alyssa said she is considering working towards a career as a Disney Imagineer, which would allow her to combine her STEM skills with her creative side.
The Javabots not only participate in competitions, they also provide outreach and training to facilitate more girls-only robotics teams in Greater Los Angeles. During an April 6 exposition in Pasadena, the team hosted hands-on workshops for girl scouts, helping them earn Think Like a Programmer or Think Like an Engineer badges. At the same time, the girls’ parents attended a workshop led by a mentor, who provided guidance about starting a robotics team.
By the end of the event, 100 percent of adults surveyed said their interest in STEM had grown as a result of the workshops, and more than 80 percent felt confident enough to form their own robotics team.
To learn more about robotics program opportunities for all Girl Scouts levels, visit http://bit.ly/GSGLArobotics.
The 4 levels of FIRST
FIRST LEGO League Junior (FLL Jr.): A non-competitive robotics program for Daisies & Brownies, ages 6-9
FIRST LEGO League (FLL): A competition-based robotics program for Juniors & Cadettes, ages 9-14
FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC): A competition-based robotics program for Seniors & Ambassadors, ages 14-18
FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC): An international competition for high school robotics teams in which students build game-playing robots within a six-week time frame.